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Tuesday, March 20, 2012
Everyone has lived with ants in the house or and the garden all his or her life. Anywhere people live, ants live too, except in Antartica and a few islands, but how much do you really know about them?
Ants evolved from wasps about 120 million years ago and later, as plant life started to diversify, ants diversified and specialized as well. We do not know how many varieties of ants there are, but it is estimated that there are about 22,000. Of those, 12,500 odd have been classified, so there is still a great deal that we do not know about ants.
Despite the large number of varieties they all have a characteristic shape: a node-like formation with a very narrow, wasp-like waist. Ants are insects and they live in colonies from a few dozen to many million individuals. The majority of these individuals are infertile female workers and soldiers.
There are also a couple of males, known as drones, for reproduction purposes and one or more reproductive, egg-laying queens. There will also be a back-up group of reproductive females who can become workers or queens as the nest requires.
Ants are capable of working together to solve fairly complicated social or environmental problems and they have been a source of inspiration to human societies for centuries.
Termites are often called 'white ants', but in fact they are not at all connected to ants. They are more closely linked to cockroaches. The fact that termites and ants share a number of characteristics is attributed to convergent evolution.
Ants are extremely successful creatures. They make up about twenty percent of the total land-based biomass and that exceeds the biomass of vertebrates. Most ants will eat anything although some species have specialized. There is a huge variation in size. Some varieties are only three-quarters of a millimetre long while others are fifty-two millimetres in length, which is two inches long!
Ants have jointed antennae unlike most other insects and the majority of of them have very weak eyesight, some are even blind, but certainly not all. Some ants have excellent eyesight. They do not respire as we do, but gases passes through their exoskeleton (hard external skin) by means of valves. They do not have a heart as such either but they do have nerves. Some ants, such as the fire ant, have stings like their primordial ancestors the wasps.
Ants come from eggs, but the eggs do not have to be fertilized: fertilized eggs become female and unfertilized develop into male. Ant nurse workers can influence which caste of ant an egg will create by the kind of food it gives it. Ant eggs need a stable temperature, so nurse workers will often move the eggs from chamber to chamber to keep it right.
When an ant hatches out, it is given easy duties like looking after the queen and the eggs for a few days and then it is moved on to digging and cleaning the nest. The ants that go out looking for food are the older ants. It is reckoned that they are given this work because it is dangerous and they will more than likely die of natural causes soon anyway.